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We’ll groom Binny for all-rounder role: Dhoni

Captain feels he can be the answer to India’s need for seam all-rounder

It was no surprise that most questions MS Dhoni fielded ahead of India’s first Test of the England series were directed at the bowling attack. He was probed whether India will go in with five bowlers or will consider playing two spinners. And the matter of a seam all-rounder came up as usual.

The Indian captain explained the permutations and combination in detail without giving away much about the attack he is going to field at Trent Bridge.

“We have often spoken about the lack of a genuine seam all-rounder which forces you to play three fast bowlers and a spinner,” Dhoni said. “With the wicket not turning, a lot of workload has to be shouldered by the fast bowlers.”

This time, however, India do have a seam bowling all-rounder in their ranks in Stuart Binny. Dhoni said if groomed and prepared properly, he can become India’s answer in overseas Tests in the long run.

“Stuart is someone who can swing the ball and can also bat well. We need somebody who can bowl those 10 overs and bat a bit. He may not be as good as a Jacques Kallis but if we give him the chances and groom him, in the coming six to eight months he will be doing that job for us. He has the talent and the potential,” the Indian captain said.

When asked if they will contemplate going in with a two-pronged spin attack, Dhoni said it was almost out of question in the English conditions.

“The first thing teams make sure when we tour overseas is that the wicket doesn’t offer any turn, at least on the first three days of the Test. So, I don’t think we even have to think on the lines of playing two spinners,” Dhoni said. “Out of the five Tests here, we may get one wicket where we can play two spinners but they will try their best to take the spinners out of equation by ensuring the ball doesn’t turn. So, we’re not confused about our playing XI as of now.”

However, Dhoni stressed that the importance of spinners cannot be underplayed in Test cricket, as they often can change the game in the final sessions of a Test. He said in is during these phases that England will miss someone like Graeme Swann.

“It will be crucial to take the game into the fourth and fifth day when the bowlers’ footmarks get slightly bigger and can be exploited by the spinners even if there is not turn in the wicket. That’s the time when a team needs a genuine spinner. So, spinners will always remain a crucial part of Test cricket.”

As for his young pace attack, the Indian skipper seemed pleased with the way they have utilized the 15 days they have been here, in strengthening their fitness, skills and adapting to the conditions.

“We’ve done a lot of work in the last few days in terms of the fast bowlers’ fitness and now we are in a period where we are easing down their workload,” Dhoni said. “From how things have gone in the practice sessions so far, they have been bowling the right lengths and making the batsmen play, which is very crucial in these conditions.

“If we don’t have injuries like we did in the last series here, we are moving in the right direction. Ishant has been bowling well in the nets and he will be important because he gets a little more bounce than the rest of our bowlers.”

Shifting the focus from bowling, Dhoni spoke of the impact that Rahul Dravid’s presence has had on the squad in the last few days.

“We wanted a mentor in the side who could talk about his own past experiences in England,” Dhoni said of the former captain. “It wasn’t about making technical changes because it is very difficult to change yourself in 10 days, but more about him interacting with the youngsters about the conditions here and how to adapt to them.

“The good thing is these young boys are quite comfortable talking to him. We noticed that in South Africa when he was part of the commentary team. If he was hanging around, the boys would go up to him, have a chat with him about cricket and other things,” the skipper said.

Stressing on what he mentioned before leaving for England, Dhoni said he will look to play the role of an attacking batsman at No. 6.

“It will be one of the crucial things here for us because that is the position from where you can change the game if you get a few boundaries and bat positively. That is generally also a phase where the ball is a bit older and the bowlers are tired, although it also depends on the start that you’ve had.”

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Prior almost certain to play: Cook

England captain confident of keeper’s fitness; keen to get back his own form

As he took the podium to address the gathered press ahead of the first Test against India, Alastair Cook looked relaxed and calm from a short break following the tough Test series defeat against Sri Lanka.

Having been under pressure from all quarters owing to his team’s poor run of form, the England skipper hoped to set things right against India.
“It was good to have 10 days away and now really excited to play a big Test series. We don’t play too many five-match Test series and India is a very big team,” Cook said.

He also hoped that the series against India would end the famine of runs from his bat. “I have never felt that I have been hitting the ball particularly badly this summer,” Cook said. “I haven’t been able to transform the work done in the nets in matches.

“As one of the top six batsmen, you have to score the runs, whether or not you are the captain. I haven’t been doing that in the last year or so and no one is keener to put that right than I am. I have worked very hard in the last 10 days and now I have to make sure my mind clears out when I walk out there to bat.

“The form is always an innings away. That’s a beauty of form that I can’t understand. You go in to bat, feel a bit rusty for the first 10 minutes, you get a bit of luck and you’re back to where you were. No one can understand why you have these peaks and troughs in your career – the better players have less of them and are fairly consistent. I know I have to score runs in this series,” the England captain said.

There was a question mark over Matt Prior’s fitness after he reported mild tightness in his right thigh during practice on Monday. Although Jos Buttler has been called up as a cover for the wicketkeeper batsman, Cook was confident that Prior will be fit to take field at Trent Bridge.

“He’s pretty good. He had a bit of swelling on his thigh yesterday but has done everything we asked him to do today. We are 99 per cent certain that he will be fine and will have a little check in the morning to make that sure.”

The build-up to this series and the composition of the two sides has made everyone believe it is going to be a tight contest between the two young and inexperienced teams, keen to conquer their losing streaks.

Cook, who led England to a 4-0 whitewash at home against India in 2011, understands that the unpredictability of young Team India could prove dangerous.

“Not many of their guys have played a Test in England before. You can look at it in two ways. You can say they will miss the experience of certain players in certain situations but then again, most of these guys don’t have any scars of 2011. They can be a really competitive side and we know that,” he acknowledged.

The skipper was also vary of the workload his two premier pacers – James Anderson and Stuart Broad – will have to shoulder in the long series in the absence of Graeme Swann.

“We know Stuart’s knee can get a bit sore and Jimmy is over the age of 30 so he can get sore slightly earlier than he did earlier. But he bowled at 90 mph in the last series even after bowling 20 overs. So, he has always managed to fight that. We will know more after this series,” he said.